“We Have A Once In A Decade Opportunity”

“We Have A Once In  A Decade Opportunity”

Over a six month period from October, 2012 until July, 2013 something special happened in City Hall. Something that a lot of people in this community had been seeking for a number of years. But those people were told they were naysayers and critics. The powers in City Hall told these people “take your three minutes and then sit down.”

But then it happened. Without any planning, unexpectedly and spontaneously, a woman named Martha Barnett took charge of the Ethics Advisory Panel (EAP)and its eight other members and demonstrated how transparency, citizen engagement, and respect can make our community better.

The EAP met 17 times and some citizens attended every meeting. Ms. Barnett soon knew them by name. Ms. Barnett allowed “regular” citizens to participate in the deliberations. Yes, you had committee members discussing issues with “regular citizens.” It was special.

Then things got way out of hand. Ms. Barnett and other members actually stated that the public testimony from the previous meeting impacted how they were going to craft their recommendations! Unbelievable – this was democracy at work!

The end result were ground breaking recommendations that included an appointed ethics officer, penalties for elected officials who violate the new rules, and the requirement for City hired lobbyists to disclose their clients. But then, as quickly as it happened…it ended!

On Wednesday, November 20, 2013, the day the EAP recommendations were to be presented to the City Commission, someone named “Staff” rained on the parade. “Staff”, nameless and faceless, asked the City Commissioners to vote against the major recommendations made by the EAP.

Just like that it was all coming back- this was how it normally works. Hear the citizens out and then ignore them – nobody will care! And nobody with any credibility will challenge us!
But this time they were wrong! They were challenged and by people with credibility.

Retired Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court, Harry Anstead, a member of the EAP stood up to defend the EAP recommendations. Jay Landers, former Secretary of the Department of Environmental Regulation and Director of the Florida Department of Natural Resources was there to speak on behalf of the EAP.

And then there was Martha Barnett, a former President of the American Bar Association, fighting for what she worked six months to accomplish and truly believed in. It was inspirational!

Now the City Commissioners must decide. At the meeting on Wednesday they could of voted to accept the EAP recommendations. But instead, only Commissioner Gil Ziffer offered support. The others decided to wait until December 11 to make their final decision.

This is a defining moment for the government and the citizens of the City of Tallahassee. Will the insiders that have held the power for so long, give into the will of the people and allow oversight into the decisions that affect our lives or will nothing change?

Chair Martha Barnett said about the EAP “we are here because there are problems and we have a once in a decade opportunity to make a difference.” Something special can happen again at City Hall!

8 Responses to "“We Have A Once In A Decade Opportunity”"

  1. On Parris Island we used the term “S.O.S.” and, slightly modified, that’s what I see here. As an ex-city employee (of 45 years total) I’ve seen the complete circle of leadership. From the days of the “Good ole boys”, where who you were and who you knew really was the only way to get something done, up to today’s “who you are or who you know is the only way to get something done.

    Until something is done with the executive level management (down to the department level) to correct the on-going attitude towards the citizens nothing is going to change.

    In my opinion the talk and action behind the consolidation effort should be re-born.

  2. Gil Ziffer made a motion to accept the EAP’s recommendations and his comments were dead on. The discussion that followed was to gut the proposal in the guise of needing clarification. A nine year old could have understood the purpose and process of the EAP’s recommendations. You would think that a Commissioner would welcome the advice and assistance of an Ethics advisor. What am I missing?
    Jack Quillman

  3. Claiming anonymity in this situation is–ironically–unethical. Elected officials, accordingly, should ignore any such recommendations.

  4. As with any situation where those in political power remain in office for an inordinate time period, they ,their staff and appointee’s become political hack”s , oblivious to the citizen”s that elected them . Then things really go south like our city hall officials and their disregard for the proper handeling of ethic’s matters.

  5. It takes alot of arrogance to appoint such a highly acclaimed group of citiens and then turn your back on all of their hard work and common sense recommendations. Regardless, of one’s poltical persausion it has become abundingly clear that an “independent” ethics person is needed in our community. Kicking sand in the face of this kind of citizens input illustrates the need to change the “business as usual” attitude at city hall.

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